It’s the year 1996, and everything sucks. At least, that’s what Netflix’s latest coming-of-age dramedy is trying to prove. And with unrequited high school crushes, embarrassing parents and the unmistakable angst of adolescence, it’s doing a pretty convincing job.
Taking place in Boring, Oreg. — a real-life town whose unfortunate name is a heavy-handed motif in the series — “Everything Sucks” centers around the coming together of the town high school’s AV and drama clubs. The main characters, at least in the premiere episode, are Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy, “Odd Squad”) and Luke O’Neil (Jahi Winston, “Proud Mary”), the former a sophomore struggling with both her sexuality and the fact that her father is the principal, the latter a baby-faced freshman tasked with finding his way in a new school.
They are a charming pair, with an instant bond that is only strengthened by the fact that both are being raised by single parents, which may hint at a future romantic plotline. Yet even with these fantastic young actors and a relatable, if not overdone concept, “Everything Sucks” fails to get off to a fantastic start.
It’s certainly not the cast. Luke’s two best friends Tyler (Quinn Liebling “Halfway House”) and McQuaid (Rio Mangini “Teen Wolf”) are the typical combination of the goofy and pessimistic sidekicks that add a healthy level of banter-humor to the show straight from the start. Beyond the freshman, drama club duo Oliver (Elijah Stevenson, “Captain Fantastic”) and Emaline (Sydney Sweeney, “The Handmaid’s Tale”) easily fall into the tropes of the too-cool grunge guy and the blonde-haired mean girl as soon as the second episode. Each character represents a different sort of outsider in high school, and it will no doubt be exciting to watch how they each fit into and work off of each other.
Yet, based off of the first episode, you might not want to make it that far. At first glance, “Everything Sucks” doesn’t seem like anything special. It absolutely could be, but the pilot tries too hard to deploy the ’90s nostalgia that permeates every scene. Luke receives an Oasis album in the mail, Oliver has a meltdown over his broken Kurt Cobain glasses (see: clout goggles) and every girl dons a distressed flannel over the T-shirt of a band that stopped making music at least seven years ago. The second episode is even named after a “Wonderwall” lyric, and the now-infamous Oasis anthem makes an appearance in a tender moment between Luke and Kate.
As it did with the ’80s-packed references of “Stranger Things,” Netflix wants to reach out to their audience using a retired culture that once was all they knew. But you need more than a throwback soundtrack and some niche references to create a solid show, and “Everything Sucks” struggles to get off to a good start.
That’s not to say that the show is not worth a watch. Luckily, it finds its footing immediately after the pilot episode, as central conflicts both between characters and within them are introduced. The nostalgia-packed episodes capture the uncomfortable and awkward institution that is high school and sets it all to a mix of Alanis Morissette and Nirvana. “Everything Sucks” can be enjoyable, but you are just going to have to keep watching to get to that point. Until then, I’d recommend kicking back with a No Doubt album and some Burger King chicken fries, because there are some things only #90skids understand.